Why Social Works Part II: The Ego

In the previous installment of this “Why Social Works” series, I reviewed how the social news sites worked and why they were successful. Where social news was about finding content around the internet and sharing it with people, lifestreaming and microblogging are about sharing information about you. These types of applications are not focused on the type of information, but the fact that this is information about the user from possibly varying sources. To get a better understanding of lifestreaming and microblogging, they must be reviewed separately.


Lifestreaming, also called aggregation, is that type of application that combines your activities from various other sites. These sites could be a blog, a social news site, a social bookmarking site, your online photo library or even anything that can serve an RSS feed. By aggregating all of this activity into one site or stream, people can get an idea of what the “Digital You” really is. The ideas came about because there were so many different sites that people could not follow a friend’s activity without being a member of dozens of sites. The lifestream aggregator simplifies this process for you and your network connections.

So, what benefits does this digital aggregation have? Well, that is highly dependent on the site that you use and how you use it. I am an avid FriendFeed user. I use FriendFeed to ask questions, share information and gather more information. Some people use FriendFeed purely as an aggregator of information, or as a third party client to the various applications it supports. I am also an information addict, so the quantity of information on FriendFeed is like a drug. I can see blogs that I normally do not read, but several people may have commented on it. I can see interesting blog posts that people have bookmarked.

Just as important as the amount of information I can see, is the amount of information that I do not see. Typically, the lifestreaming applications are social, so you only see the items from people you have subscribed to. In the case of FriendFeed, you can also hide items that you do not find interesting or no longer want to see. This basic filtering is very important as the number of items that are posted every day is enormous. Several applications have a groups or list feature as well. This allows the user to group several of their network connections into one smaller stream. This allows the user to segment who they are following in whatever manner they feel. This segmentation allows the user to see more information without keeping the floodgates open.


On the other side of the information spectrum from lifestreaming is microblogging. Typically, microblogging is seen as the short bursts of text approximately 140 characters long. Currently, Twitter is considered the standard microblogging service. 140 characters does not seem like much, but it is enough for its purpose. Microblogging is not long-form blogging, like this blog tends to be. It is not short form blogging, which can be seen in services like Tumblr. Microblogging is meant to be the quick sharing of information. In some cases, a simple comment can lead to a discussion among several people. Other terms have also been used to describe this type of application, and the one I lean towards is Microsharing. The idea is not that you will write a blog post in 140 character increments. You will be sharing bits of information, thoughts, emotions or even what you had for breakfast.

Again, microblogging applications are social. So, you will have a number of people subscribed to you, and you will be subscribed to other people. How many people you want to follow is your choice, because people will use the tool for different purposes. Twitter has been used as a marketing tool by some people, and in those cases, subscribing to everyone that subscribes to you is appropriate. For others, they may only subscribe to people that write about things that interest them. There are no rules on how you follow people, or the number of people you must subscribe to. The flexibility of the subscription paradigm, allows people to use the tool in whatever manner is appropriate. Just as in the lifestreaming tools, some of the microblogging tools have groups or list features. Twitter does not at this point, but it is widely rumored that the feature is coming.

Why Are These Successful?

At the most basic level, lifestreaming and microblogging are successful because good information can come from anyone at any time. Because of this, there has even been several instances where breaking news appeared on these types of sites before it appeared on major television stations. However, the ability to see breaking news is just a side benefit of the success of these tools. These types of applications are successful for one really big reason, EGO.

I am not saying that all Twitter and FriendFeed users have big egos. I am saying that these applications directly (and indirectly) serve the ego. Why do I say this? Twitter and microblogging are successful because everyone has an opinion. It is much simpler to set up a Twitter account and start typing, compared to setting up a WordPress account and trying to figure out what to blog about. With microblogging, you can quickly gain a following because you can answer many questions about a specific topic. That topic can be any niche like knots, knitting, finance or PHP. For any topic, there is someone listening and trying to find more information. Given this relative ease in gaining subscribers, people can even become a web celebrity and convert this celebrity into business opportunities.

The other side of the ego situation is “what’s in it for me”. For microblogging, it is not directly obvious how you benefit from participating. However, by participating in the discussions, the direct benefit is typically finding new information. For lifestreaming applications, the direct benefits are more obvious. First, by connecting with people that have similar interests, you will see various blog posts and other website pages that are directly relevant to your interests. Finding new information is ridiculously easy when the information is continuously streamed for you. In addition to that, the information that you share is streamed in front of other people. For example, I use Google Reader a lot. I share at least 40 items per day. This sharing has appeared in front of several people who now use my shared items as part of their morning reading. This sharing can show people that you have an eye for news or that you find really interesting information (see Mona on FriendFeed). Again, this sharing can gain you a fairly large following and that can be converted into opportunities as well.

Many people have converted “followings” into business opportunities. As you can see above, I am not talking about ego in the sense of “I have a big ego”, I am talking about the focus on the user. This relates to many standard marketing concepts as well. If you focus on what the customer wants and needs, you can be successful. In these social applications, that customer is you.

Why Social Works Series

If you want to read the other installments in this series, please take a look at the links below:

Why Social Works Part I

Why Social Works Part III: Not Just Social Networks

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7 thoughts on “Why Social Works Part II: The Ego

  1. WebSuccessDiva,

    Thanks for the kind words. In some of these applications, I think people forget there is a reason we all joined. Typically, it is because we thought we could gain something, like knowledge or opportunity.


  2. Spot-on Rob. It’s undeniable that ego is a part of equation. It’s really a question of how big the ego gets!

    H-P’s Social Computing Lab published a paper about the importance of recognition for employees’ contributions. They evaluated their own internal social software, and analyzed the importance of this feedback loop. If no one acknowledges their contributions, employees are likely to drop Enterprise 2.0 initiatives.

    Link to H-P’s paper, Revealing the Long Tail in Office Conversations: http://www.hpl.hp.com/research/scl/papers/watercooler/


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